How Clinton Handled His Debt Ceiling Crisis Better Than Obama

tags: debt ceiling



Kara Brandeisky is an intern at The New Republic.

“Nobody should assume we’re going to have a debt-limit extension,” John Boehner warned. “If the vote were held today, it would not pass.” Sound familiar? This was Boehner in November of 1995, when he was the House Republican Conference chairman and his party was refusing to raise the debt ceiling unless President Bill Clinton agreed to a package of sweeping spending cuts. The big difference is that back then, Republicans backed down, whereas today they’re on the verge of winning major policy concessions in exchange for a deal. How did President Bill Clinton head off this threat where Obama failed?...

THE MOST CRUCIAL difference between Clinton’s debt limit battle and the current crisis is that, in 1996, the Republicans were bluffing. No Republican seriously considered defaulting on the debt to be a viable option. “It was essentially unthinkable,”Alice Rivlin, director of the Office of Management and Budget under Clinton, told me. “There was nobody in the Congress who really contemplated forcing a default.” Larry Haas, communications director for the OMB from 1994 to 1997, agreed. “Everybody in the White House and on Capitol Hill knew that the conflict had to end at some point,” Hass told me.

This time around, default seems like a real possibility. Some Republicans, such as Michele Bachmann, have argued that default would be a form of “tough love,” necessary for the country to get its finances in order. Other Republicans simply don’t believe that the government will default if the debt ceiling is not raised. “Even a Clinton, I think, would have had a very difficult time during this current crop of Republicans,” Brookings senior fellow Isabel Sawhill told me....




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